Living for 101 years, Nancy Jane Cooper had a full and exciting life. To everyone who knew her, she was “Aunt Nancy”. A spunky and fiercely independent woman who did not care for modern luxuries such as running water or electricity, though she did enjoy the company of her television and radio set. Nancy was born August 31st, 1861. She was the daughter of John Cooper and Jane Lytle Lowman of Winfield Township in Butler County. Her grandfather, Samuel Cooper, built what is now one of the oldest houses in Butler County in the early 1800s.
The cabin was built on land now known as the Depreciation Lands, which was land that was between the Allegheny and Ohio Rivers directly north of Pittsburgh. The land was set aside in 1783 by the Pennsylvania legislature to be given to Pennsylvania’s Revolutionary War Veterans as pay.
The cabin was built by Samuel Cooper with hand-hewn logs; a later addition utilized logs from a water-powered sawmill. Once Samuel Cooper and his wife’s family began to grow, they added the spinning house and other outbuildings to the property to provide for their large family of eight children. For a long period of time, the Knox Chapel M. E. Church held meetings within the family cabin.
Nancy married John Armstrong Stepp on November 17, 1880. They had a daughter named Alice in 1881. At the time, Nancy Cooper Stepp wanted a divorce and was willing to walk approximately 15 miles to get it from the Butler County Courthouse. The fact she was able to acquire a divorce in the late 1880’s was a rarity in of itself. But Nancy Cooper was able to take her maiden name back and continued through life unmarried and living in her family’s homestead.
When her father died in 1883, he left his farm to Nancy and her two half-sisters from a prior marriage. In 1903, Nancy purchased 37 acres from her half-sister, Margaret, for the price of $1. Because of this, Nancy was able to stay in the cabin up until a few months prior to her death. Around the time of the Civil War, her father added a side room onto the cabin, after that the structure of the cabin remained unchanged. Nancy did cover the structure with tar paper to protect the chinking and she whitewashed the walls to increase the brightness inside along with adding wallpaper for decoration.
Her quaint cabin never had running water, and it wasn’t until 1959 that she had electricity in. Prior to this, Nancy would go to the spring house located on the property to keep her food cold and to gather water. According to her heir, reverend Paul Muder (who was the last person born in the cabin), “What the family members could not make or grow, for the most part they did not have.” Nancy did enjoy having a refrigerator and hot plate, however the two lightbulbs that were installed in her house reportedly bothered her eyes and she preferred to live by kerosene light. Another past time that Nancy took great pride in was her garden, she was known for her beautiful flowers.
In a conversation with The Butler Eagle, her great-nephew’s wife, Lena, said that Aunt Nancy “wasn’t quite 100 when, one day, she took a rope bed and pulled it down the stairs and drug it outside and set it on fire.” Lena was taken aback at the historical value that quite literally just went up in flames and she questioned Aunt Nancy as such. Who responded, “Well, it was so uncomfortable that nobody else is ever going to sleep on it.”
On January 9th, 1963, Nancy passed away a few months short of her 102nd birthday. She is buried one mile from the log cabin that she loved so much, in Hannahstown Cemetery. After five generations had lived in the house, “Aunt Nancy” being the last, her grandson Rev. Paul Muder donated the two century old cabin to the Butler County Historical Society who restored the cabin and still maintains it today. In an article from the Butler Eagle, they explain how fortunate it was that the Historical Society was able to take over the cabin because if they were not able to, Nancy Cooper’s wish for the cabin was for it “to be burned to the ground after her death so it would not be seen deteriorating.”